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Could This Tech Legislation Make U.S. a Little More Like Communist China?


“We're talking about a technology that's rapidly changing and questions about deeply held principles related to both national security and privacy."

Top law enforcement organizations are backing an encryption bill to require giving the federal government a “backdoor” to cell phones and other electronic devices during terrorism investigations.

But the bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), appears to be very similar to an encryption bill enacted by China last year that was opposed by top U.S. officials and tech leaders, according to NextGov.

When China proposed the law, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew strongly objected. Still the law was enacted by China's communist government in late 2015.

Samsung Electronics' Galaxy S III, right, and Apple's iPhone 4S, left. (Credit: AP) AP

The Burr-Feinstein “Compliance With Court Orders Act” would require tech companies to comply with court orders to allow law enforcement to provide investigators with “intelligible information or data, or appropriate technical assistance to obtain such information or data.” The Justice Department sought to access the iPhone used by perpetrators in the San Bernardino, California, terrorist attack. Apple resisted helping the government. However, the government recently dropped the action after finding its own backdoor way of bypassing the phone’s security.

From NextGov:

In 2014, a committee within the National People’s Congress was considering legislation that would have required technology companies to build encryption backdoors into systems and devices for the Chinese government to use as part of investigations into terrorism (though the definition of terrorism was fairly broad.) The rule also would have mandated that companies store customer data on servers located in China. ...

The legislation that passed at the end of last year removed the controversial part about housing data onshore in China, and forcing companies to share encryption keys with the government. But it did require them to offer “technical means of assistance” to law enforcement.

The White House has been cautious about taking a position on the bill and doesn't think it will likely land on President Barack Obama's desk.

“When it comes to encryption, that's much more complicated,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told TheBlaze. “We're talking about a technology that's rapidly changing and questions about deeply held principles related to both national security and privacy. I just happen to be personally skeptical that Congress would succeed in getting something useful done on that.”

Most technology firms opposed the legislation. But, this week, the FBI Agents Association, National District Attorneys Association, Major Cities Police Chiefs Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police and Major Counties Sherriff’s Association endorsed the proposal.

“I’ve spent the better part of the last year exploring the challenges associated with criminal and terrorist use of encrypted communications,” said Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Our draft legislation requires entities to provide law enforcement with data in a readable format when served with a court order. Law enforcement can then conduct informed investigations using the communications involved in criminal and terrorist activities. I’m appreciative of their support.”

Neither the Burr nor the Feinstein office responded to inquiries from TheBlaze about the comparison to the China law.

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